Frye’s Valentines


Here are some Valentine references culled from various sources.

[A verse to an unknown lover]


I will be your valentine.
Will you be my concubine?
On ambrosia let us dine,
With a glass of sparkling wine.
Let us now our limbs entwine.
I’ll be prone and you supine,
So our two hearts will align.
You’ll be mine, and I’ll be thine.
Cupid’s arrow is our sign
In our lover’s sacred shrine.
The world will never us malign:
Lover, you are all divine.

Just kidding.

– – –

I don’t need St. Valentine’s Day to remind me that I love you, but I do need it to realize that it’s the middle of the middle term, and I’m halfway to Helen. (Frye-Kemp Correspondence, 1939)

St. Valentine’s day, not that I paid any attention to it (Diary 1949)

I used today as Helen’s birthday party—sorry, I mean Valentine party—the birthday is in October.  I got down to my ten o’clock and finished Sidney, digressing—I don’t like digressions, but if they don’t read the stuff digressing is sometimes the only way to get them interested—on drama and the role of the unities—action, time, place, social class and mood.  (Time & place being subordinate characteristics of action, that leaves action, class & mood as the three fundamental unities.  These are respectively mythos, ethos and dianoia.)  I used some of my new stuff on high & low mimetic & the difference between a tragic and a pathetic climax. (Diary 1952, Feb. 13)

Nancy (Fulford, Frye’s god daughter] sent me a Valentine & her picture—she’s going to be a lovely young woman. (Diary 1955)

The question of Gertrude’s guilt, as we know from the bad Quarto, has been suppressed, i.e., left to the audience to speculate about. The question of Ophelia’s suicide is similarly left in the air, & the question of her pregnancy is raised only by her St. Valentine song & one’s general knowledge of literary conventions relative to fucked & frenzied maidens. If she’s pregnant, Hamlet is cursing his mother for his own sin; if she’s not, her madness scene is mostly virginal Oedipism. Any way you take these puzzles, the play falls into a different shape: it’s like walking over boards laid on crossbeams, & there’s not intended to be one correct answer. Think how differently the Hamlet-Ophelia scenes, notably the mousetrap one, read when we put virgin &pregnant women for Ophelia: However, I don’t think Ophelia was pregnant, but I do think she thought she was. (Notebook 8, Renaissance Notebooks, par. 25)

The Parliament of Fowls, where suitors of an eagle are put off for a year by the lady eagle, & then ends in a ballad of the coming of spring, is a major influence on Love’s Labor’s Lost. I don’t know if the St. Valentine’s festival is in Love’s Labor’s Lost or not. (Renaissance Notebooks)

We live in an intuitive world of abstract, geometrical, arbitrary symbols: traffic signs, dates, a geometrical alphabet (note how words today break down into letters & Robot words, O.K., F.B.I., UNRRD, & a world dominated by U.K., U.S.A., & U.S.S.R.: a man in the Army speaks almost nothing else) flags (swastika & rayed sun, a flag with 13 red & white bars & 48 stars are potent symbols), arbitrarily conventionalized shapes (the v-shaped “heart” of cards & St. Valentine’s day; the star-shaped star), & so on.  (Romance Notebooks)

Red & white are the colors of erotic love (Shakespeare’s PT [The Phoenix and the Turtle], Valentine’s Day, [See WP, 270–1, and MM, 49–50.] the flower in MND [A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.2. 102–9], the episode in Parzival); the colors of its demonic white-goddess parody are red, white and black.  Red & white are also the colors of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the animal body and blood where the red principle is the life. (Late Notebooks)

Shakespeare’s Phoenix and the Turtle is a different matter: there the Biblical metaphor of two people becoming “one flesh” in marriage [Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:31] is applied, in an erotic context, to the union in “death,” which can mean sexual union, of a red bird and a white bird on St.  Valentine’s Day.  Some of the paradoxes resulting from two things becoming the same thing almost read like parodies of the Nicene creed on the persons and substance of the Trinity. (“The Survival of Eros in Poetry”)

In this play [The Two Gentlemen of Verona] the “two gentlemen” are named Valentine and Proteus, which means that one is a true lover and the other a fickle one. Valentine loves Silvia, but is blocked by the usual parental opposition; Proteus loves Julia, but discards her as soon as he sees Silvia. He then deliberately betrays Valentine in order to knock him out as a rival for Silvia; Julia disguises herself as a male page and sets out in pursuit of Proteus. At the end of the play Proteus finds Silvia alone in a wood, tries to rape her, and is baffled when Valentine bursts out of the bushes and says: “Ruffian, let go that rude uncivil touch . . . !” All very correct melodrama, and we wait for Proteus to get the proper reward of his treachery to Valentine. What happens next is so incredible that I can only resort to paraphrase. Proteus says in effect: I know it was a dirty trick to try to rape your mistress; it just seemed too good a chance to miss.”And Valentine responds, in effect: “Oh, that’s all right, old man, and of course if you really want Silvia so much she’s yours.” Fortunately, the disguised Julia, who’s been following closely behind, puts an end to this nonsense by fainting. They pick her up and see who she is; Proteus now finds her more attractive than he did before, and everything ends happily. So far as all this has a point, the point seems to be that love for women is to be subordinated in a crisis to male friendship. (Northrop Frye on Shakespeare)

In Shakespeare’s time, as Theseus’s remark indicates, the main emphasis on the first of May fell on a sunrise service greeting the day with songs. All the emphasis was on hope and cheerfulness. Shakespeare evidently doesn’t want to force a specific date on us: it may be May Day eve, but all we can be sure of is that it’s later than St. Valentine’s Day in mid February, the day when traditionally the birds start copulating, and we could have guessed that anyway. (ibid.)

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